Legal needs to be data-driven in order to thrive in this business environment - but getting started isn't easy. Liberis' GC Alexis Alexander shares her experiences with data at a high-growth scaleup.
Whatever form ‘life after lockdown’ takes, one thing is clear: it’s unlikely that we’ll ever work in the same way again. The overnight move to universal remote working, enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, has had many effects on ways of working and productivity; but in the specific case of in-house legal, it’s accelerated the adoption of collaborative technology by five years in a few months. Video conferencing is the default, legal teams are managing tasks in Trello and Jira, and digital contracting and eSignature are now must-haves.
But where legal meets technology, hype has often obscured understanding. Vendors need to market their products, but in-house counsel could be forgiven for being lost as to what’s actually real, with the blizzard of law firm innovation teams, incubators and hackathons swirling around. But the last few months have proven to be a real litmus test of what actually adds value, and what doesn’t. Data should drive these judgements, but gathering data is a challenge in itself.
Legal needs to talk the same language as the rest of the business, when it comes to reporting and collaborating. At tech scaleups, this really means data and data visualization
For legal teams at tech scaleups like Liberis, our challenge in gathering and using data is often where to start. There are any number of problems that could be tackled, but prioritising them, and representing their impact to the business, is a challenge in itself. Legal needs to talk the same language as the rest of the business, when it comes to reporting and collaborating.
At tech scaleups, this really means data and data visualization. Sales has metrics and KPIs, Product has metrics and KPIs, Marketing has metrics and KPIs; if legal is to prove its value, and make the case for investment in its growth, it needs to have metrics and legal KPIs, and clearly track performance against them.
The problem is that lawyers are not data scientists. We’re neither trained nor hired to be; and while there’s the odd Head of Legal who’s as happy in an Excel as they are in contract, they’re the exception - not the rule. The value of legal isn’t traditionally measured in numbers or objective fact: in-house lawyers haven’t historically played a part in revenue generation, only risk avoidance. This mindset has to change.
Similarly, at a large corporate, there might be the headcount and budget to hire a legal operations analyst, or borrow someone from finance on secondment; in a scaleup, where budgets are lean, you’re more likely to turn to your colleagues in product teams to help with tech projects.
What’s more, when headcount is available, it’s much more likely to go to a team that’s seen to be revenue-facing, rather than legal, which is still seen as a cost centre. The first lawyer in a scaleup will likely be on their own for a while, before possibly adding a paralegal. With that kind of resource constraint, where do you start when it comes to data?
For colleagues naturally comfortable working with data, it’s still hard to work out which metrics are vanity metrics, and which legal department metrics actually relate to growth and success. For lawyers it’s even harder - the easiest place to start is just to ask. If you report to the CEO, what are the metrics she/he asks you about? What do you wish you could report to her but can’t? What does she ask you about from a legal perspective before board meetings? At the macro level, what are the company OKRs, and how can you demonstrate that legal’s work is working towards their achievement? This will give you the first steer.
The metrics you want to track might include data points like:
Each of these contract metrics can be gathered crudely, but seeing them change month on month, and starting to manipulate and compare them, will quickly become valuable.
Getting started with data does not mean rushing out to procure some sophisticated business intelligence platform. If you’re in a high-growth scaleup, it’s pretty likely you already have everything you need in your company’s tech stack to go from nowhere to somewhere with legal data.
You might have templates saved in Sharepoint, in which case, can you track the clicks? You might have legal contracts passing through Salesforce, in which case, can you track the time-to-signature based on how long deals sit in legal review? Even if you still have a manual approval workflow where you sign off on new contracts, can you track weekly and monthly volumes in a G-sheet?
Even if you start with something incredibly basic, the most important thing is that you start at all.
Creating a base level of data that you can not only share with your colleagues, but demonstrably influence - and for their benefit - is the first step to speaking their language
The point of tracking numbers, of course is that you should be trying to move them up or down. For example, if your data reveals that your time-to-signature has crept up from a month on average to three months on average, but negotiation levels haven’t changed, and deal values haven’t changed either, then where is the blockage? What decisions can you make that will put downward pressure on that number?
To take another example, if your volume of inbound queries to legal has increased for several months, but without any significant process changes, what’s driving the volume? If it’s new starters searching for NDAs or compliance documents, can that volume be addressed with a new shared resource and a training video as part of onboarding?
Creating a base level of data that you can not only share with your colleagues, but demonstrably influence - and for their benefit - is the first step to speaking their language.
‘No-code’ is another buzzword that we hear more and more, but in the case of data visualization, it’s actually relevant. Excel and G-sheets will let you visualize data with a few clicks - the next step is to connect it to a real-time dashboard, using something like Geckoboard or Looker. If this seems too technical to be a good use of your time, then borrow expertise from elsewhere in the business - your colleagues in revenue ops or finance will be able to help in half the time it would take you to do it yourself.
The steps above shouldn’t take too much time, but will give you a foundation to get started with data for your legal team. If your founders live in decks filled with graphs, send them legal’s monthly deck filled with graphs. More importantly, you can start to use the numbers you’re influencing to make the case for investment in your team.
If you can show that 20 hours of your time each week is spent on low-value contracts, and that high-value contracts are stuck in a queue due to inefficient process, then can you make a case for an operations hire to streamline your processes? Armed with numbers, you should be able to link these data points to revenue and make a case that your colleagues can’t ignore.
Alexis Alexander is the General Counsel at Liberis.
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